Climate and Energy News Roundup 1/12/2018

Policy and Politics

New York City is suing BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, seeking compensation for the billions of dollars it spends protecting the city from the effects of climate change.  “As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient”, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.  The city also will divest its pension funds of fossil fuel assets.  Oliver Milman reported on the response of economists to the announcement, and Bill McKibben discussed its implications.

On Monday, the five FERC commissioners voted unanimously to reject a DOE proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear plants to enhance grid reliability.  Murray Energy head, Robert E. Murray, was not happy with the decision, although he should be happy about the many items on his wish list that the Trump administration has fulfilled.  According to a report released Wednesday by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, the Trump administration has undertaken a “systematic reduction” in presenting information and content about climate change on federal government websites.  On Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland committed to joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of states committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Furthermore, four lawmakers, two Republicans and two Democrats, joined the House Climate Solutions Caucus on Tuesday.

In a broad-ranging interview with Reuters, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt laid out his plans for 2018, which include repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP).  However, 12 Democratic state Attorneys General have said that Pruitt needs to recuse himself from all matters related to the repeal of the CPP because of his efforts to fight it while he was Attorney General of Oklahoma.  After opening up essentially all of the coasts of the lower 48 states to new oil and gas drilling, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made an exception for Florida.  Other coastal states sought similar exemptions, but the American Petroleum Institute objected.  The Trump administration has taken the position that climate policies kill jobs, but California’s experience challenges that position.


2017 was the most expensive year on record for disasters in the U.S., NOAA reported on Monday.  According to a new study in the journal Science Advances, unless new protections are added, the number of people affected by devastating floods could skyrocket over the next 25 years as a result of increased rainfall intensity.  According to lead author Sven Willner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “More than half of the United States must at least double their protection level within the next two decades if they want to avoid a dramatic increase in river flood risks.”  As if to put an exclamation point on that statement, heavy rains hit California this week, causing deadly mudslides.

Climate Central has determined that 2017 was the third hottest year on record in the U.S. based on an evaluation of NOAA data.  Last week I provided a link to a study showing that it was the second hottest year globally.

One of the direst consequences of climate change will be the collapse of Antarctic glaciers, causing massive sea level rise and the associated displacement of millions of people from Earth’s coasts.  Now, a young glaciologist has a radical proposal for delaying and possible averting such an event.

Peter Sinclair has a new video, this one explaining why the eastern U.S. can be so much colder than Alaska.  However, a study by the World Weather Attribution project concluded that a cold outbreak like the one that just occurred is 15-times less likely to take place today due to global warming.  In addition, the effects of global warming on such cold outbreaks is to make them about 4°F warmer than they otherwise would have been.

About every two years there is a resurgence of the myth that Earth is about to enter a new “mini ice age”.  Dana Nuccitelli examined the data behind the myth and what climate science has to say about it.

The sex of Pacific green sea turtles, like other sea turtles, is determined by the heat of the sand in which the eggs are incubated.  The warmer the temperature, the greater the number of females.  New research, published Monday in Current Biology, found that the ratio of female to male Pacific green sea turtles from the Pacific Ocean’s largest and most important green sea turtle rookery was 116:1.  Sea turtles aren’t the only aquatic life being impacted by climate change.  A study published in Global Change Biology found that the structure of California mussel shells has changed in response to declining ocean pH resulting from more CO2 in the atmosphere.


Renewable energy is moving forward in Australia with the announcement that construction will start this year on the world’s largest solar-thermal generation facility (150 MW) in South Australia.  Meanwhile, French utility Neoen announced that it will build a large battery storage system at the Kaban Green Power Hub in Queensland.  Closer to home, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that 25 GW of new electricity was added to the grid last year, with about half coming from renewable energy resources.  Dominion Energy is investing $1 billion in its solar fleet in Virginia and North Carolina, and now ranks among utilities with the largest solar portfolios, either operating or under development.

In other renewables news, an Xcel Energy solicitation set a new solar-plus-storage record after attracting a median price of $36 per megawatt-hour.  On-shore wind plus storage was even lower, with a median price of $21 per megawatt-hour.  After years of delays, the U.S. offshore wind industry is finally gaining momentum, with new projects being planned along the Atlantic coast.

In a new report, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said “As the global transition toward renewables gains pace and as battery storage and electric vehicles technologies pick up momentum, China is setting itself up to dominate these sectors globally over the next several decades of this century.”  For now, if you’re moved to buy an EV or add battery storage to your house for ethical reasons, you might consider where the cobalt in those batteries comes from.  General Motors head Mary Barra has promised investors that the company will make money selling electric cars by 2021, in part by reducing the amount of cobalt in its batteries.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s monthly short-term energy outlook projects that by 2019 natural gas will provide 34% of U.S. electricity generation and coal 28%, primarily because natural gas is cheaper.  On the other hand, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved an order Thursday that will require PG&E Corp., the state’s biggest utility, to use batteries rather than gas to meet peak electrical demand.  The PUC also voted on Thursday to require the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to close in 2025.

A large number of bills dealing with renewable energy and energy efficiency have been filed for the current session of the Virginia General assembly.  Ivy Main posted a summary of the renewable energy bills.  The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines were also the subject of legislation in Virginia, where two Democratic Delegates and one Democratic Senator introduced a package of legislation aimed at protecting landowners, water sources, and public safety during construction of the pipelines.  Meanwhile, In North Carolina, regulators delayed a decision on the ACP’s clean water certificate until as late as February and postponed several other environmental permits.

Exxon has filed a petition in a Texas District Court in response to a series of civil lawsuits filed by coastal California communities that claim the company is responsible for damages caused by sea level rise.  According to Inside Climate News, “The petition claims that the California lawsuits are an extension of efforts by a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general pledged to holding fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change and born out of a meeting of green groups intent on ruining the industry.”

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

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